Let the grilling begin.
Whether you're picnicking in the park or eating dinner on the deck, outdoor grilling is an American pastime.
Choosing which grill to buy can be a challenge, not to mention an investment. A good camping grill costs about $100, and a top-of-the-line outdoor grill can cost as much as $14,000.
Clay Dennis, owner of Southern Hearth & Patio on Lee Highway, said that with grills the adage "you get what you pay for" is true.
"Camping grills are the least expensive because smaller, portable grills simply require less materials to manufacture," Dennis said.
Today's most popular grills have lights and multiple fuel options (gas and charcoal), he said.
Stainless-steel grills are also favored.
"Buyer beware," Dennis warned. "Stainless steel is not a product but a process. Most grills look alike when they are new, but two years later, it will be obvious which is the better grill. Shop with a magnet. Real stainless steel isn't magnetic. If your magnet sticks to the grill, I'd keep walking."
Whether you're looking for a backyard or a professional-grade grill, technology makes a difference, Dennis said.
"Materials really matter when dealing with higher heating," he said. "That's why grills in the $600-$1,500 range cost what they do. Higher heat means better searing and more consistent temperatures, but it also calls for a better-built grid and burner to handle the heat over the years."
Typical heat for this category usually maxes out at about 700 F, he said. This level of grill is also where customers can begin to find American-made products.
The costlier the grill, the more it has to offer, Dennis said.
"When you get to the $2,000 class, the grills get even better - heavier and much hotter, often into the 1,000-degree range. These are grills that will typically last 20 years or more, and customers that get into this category will usually admit to 'loving' their grill."
Dennis said food tastes better when prepared on more expensive grills.
"You will definitely notice a difference in food flavor and juiciness; and when building a built-in grill, it's an absolute must to consider. This category also will include lights, rotisseries and lots of high-quality stainless steel," he said.
Investing in a protective cover for a grill is a good idea from a cleanliness standpoint, though most higher-end grills don't need one, Dennis said.
"If you cook more than two nights a week, year-round, then [a grill cover] becomes a hassle," he said. "If you are a weekend griller, it's a good idea to keep it covered up when not in use."
GRILLS THROUGH THE YEARS
Baby boomers grew up with stone or brick grills built on a patio or backyard. That stopped, though, when portable grills hit the market.
"Now, with the idea of outdoor entertainment areas," Dennis said, "built-ins are back in a big way."
Grills today differ greatly from ones built 25 years ago, he said.
"We are seeing a resurgence in the American-made segment. People are growing increasingly wary of manufacturing practices and quality-control standards of products coming from overseas, especially when they are putting their food on it."
GRILLS IN OUTDOOR KITCHENS
Some homeowners are opting for full-size outdoor kitchens, grill included.
"Over the last eight years, outdoor kitchens have become a staple in nicer backyards. They've gotten bigger and better," Dennis said, noting that the kitchens include televisions, vent hoods, refrigerators, ice makers, dishwashers and, for die-hard grillers, outdoor heaters.
"The best grill for an outdoor kitchen is determined by your needs," he said. "How many you grill for, how often and what you like to grill are all important questions. The most important thing is to do it right or not at all."
Inferior grills will have to be replaced within a few years of installation, he said. "You'll have to redo the cabinetry and countertops."